For most high school seniors, spring means prom which means graduation which means moving on to the next stage of their lives.
Austin Mahone is, literally, already on the next stage. The rising 18-year-old pop star is readying for a new summer tour, kicking off July 25 in his hometown of San Antonio. “It’s almost sold out,” he says.
In the meantime, he’s promoting an EP, “The Secret,” that came out in May and will appear Saturday at the B96 Pepsi Summer Bash.
“I was not popular in high school, I definitely had problems,” says Mahone, “So I left after freshman year and was homeschooled at my grandmother’s house.” Ten million Facebook fans and 6 million Twitter followers later, his days of unpopularity are a distant memory. “What I’m doing now is so much better,” he says. “I have no interest in prom.”
So what exactly is the secret? “The secret is that this is my project that I’ve been working on for two years that I can finally share with my fans,” he says. “I did one collaboration with Pitbull and wrote most of the songs with producer RedOne. One of the songs I wrote and produced myself.”
Mahone has been honing his craft since he was 6, when he picked up a pair of drumsticks, then a guitar when he was 14. How he was able to forge ahead of the millions of other YouTube hopefuls and become MTV’s artist to watch at the 2013 Video Music Awards and win Radio Disney’s 2013 award for ultimate breakout star? “I have no idea,” he says.
“My best friend and I started posting covers of my favorite songs on YouTube. We just did it for fun. There were 30 people at my first show. At my first sold-out show, there was no stage so we had to perform on this upside-down couch.” His YouTube views have passed 400 million.
The music business is a ruthless one, and promising young stars are known to get steamrolled by fame instead of riding it to a lengthy, successful career. Mahone understands the risks, magnified by the scrutiny of social media and hungry paparazzi, and has — he hopes — taken appropriate measures to avoid a Bieber-like swan dive.
“At some point, I will have a hiccup here and there. I can’t be perfect. I will make mistakes, but you have to keep moving forward,” he says. “I feel good that I have a solid foundation: my mom, my friends and my managers.”
He has also found a mentor in Miami rapper Pitbull, who worked with him on the hit “MMM Yeah.”
“He’s wild, but actually really nice, really down to earth and very smart,” Mahone says. “He looks out for me.”
Not that he’s been completely insulated from the dangers of pop stardom, most notably overeager fans. “One girl hopped in my car as I was leaving a concert. As we were pulling away, I looked over and there she was, a complete stranger looking at me. That was weird,” he says. “But on my last tour, a girl threw her car keys at my [crotch]. I have no idea why. I kept them and said, ‘Good luck getting home.’ ”
As he moves onto the next stage of his life, he’s also working on new moves. “We’re working bigger venues, so there’s more room to try new things. I wanted to fly around [the stage] this time, but my managers told me no. Next time.”